Influence of Body Odors and Gender on Perceived Genital Arousal

A Correction to this article was published on 12 February 2018

This article has been updated

Abstract

Olfaction is often linked to mating behavior in nonhumans. Additionally, studies in mating behavior have shown that women seem to be more affected by odor cues than men. However, the relationship between odor cues and sexual response—specifically, sexual arousal—has not been studied yet. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of the exposure to human body odors (from individuals of the opposite gender) on perceived genital arousal, while these were presented concomitantly to sexually explicit video clips. Eighty university students (40 women) rated their perceived genital arousal (perceived degree of erection/genital lubrication) in response to an audiovisual sexual stimulus, while simultaneously exposed to a body odor from an opposite-gender donor or no odor. Participants also rated each odor sample’s (body odor and no odor) perceived pleasantness, intensity, and familiarity. Findings indicated that odor condition had an effect on women’s (but not men’s) perceived genital arousal, with women showing higher levels of perceived genital arousal in the no odor condition. Also, results showed that women rated body odors as less pleasant than no odor. Notwithstanding, the odor ratings do not seem to explain the association between body odor and perceived genital arousal. The current results support the hypothesis that women, rather than men, are sensitive to odors in the context of sexual response. The findings of this study have relevance for the understanding of human sexuality with respect to chemosensory communication.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Change history

  • 12 February 2018

    There were 4 cells in the original Table 2 that reported SEM values instead of SDs. A corrected version of the table is provided below. In the Results section, the corresponding corrections are as follows:

Notes

  1. 1.

    It should be recognized that there is very little research supporting the notion that higher olfactory acuity affects women’s sexual experiences differently (Bendas, 2016).

References

  1. Bendas, J. (2016). Odor threshold relates to sexual pleasure. Poster presented at the meeting of European Chemoreception Research Organization, Athens, Greece.

  2. Berglund, H., Lindström, P., & Savic, I. (2006). Brain response to putative pheromones in lesbian women. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(21), 8269–8274.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bossio, J. A., Suschinsky, K. D., Puts, D. A., & Chivers, M. L. (2014). Does menstrual cycle phase influence the gender specificity of heterosexual women’s genital and subjective sexual arousal? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43(5), 941–952.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Carvalho, J., Gomes, A. Q., Laja, P., Oliveira, C., Vilarinho, S., Janssen, E., & Nobre, P. (2013). Gender differences in sexual arousal and affective responses to erotica: The effects of type of film and fantasy instructions. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42(6), 1011–1019.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Cenfetelli, R., & Bassellier, G. (2009). Interpretation of formative measurement in information systems research. MIS Quarterly, 33(4), 689–708.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Chrea, C., Valentin, D., Sulmont-Rossé, C., Mai, H. L., Nguyen, D. H., & Abdi, H. (2004). Culture and odor categorization: Agreement between cultures depends upon the odors. Food Quality and Preference, 15(7), 669–679.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Croy, I., Negoias, S., Novakova, L., Landis, B. N., & Hummel, T. (2012). Learning about the functions of the olfactory system from people without a sense of smell. PLoS ONE, 7(3), e33365–e33365.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  8. Distel, H., Ayabe-Kanamura, S., Martínez-Gomez, M., Schicker, I., Kobayakawa, T., Saito, S., & Hudson, R. (1999). Perception of everyday odors—Correlation between intensity, familiarity and strength of hedonic judgement. Chemical Senses, 24(2), 191–199. https://doi.org/10.1093/chemse/24.2.191.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Distel, H., & Hudson, R. (2001). Judgement of odor intensity is influenced by subjects’ knowledge of the odor source. Chemical Senses, 26(3), 247–251.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Doty, R. L. (1975). An examination of relationships between the pleasantness, intensity, and concentration of 10 odorous stimuli. Perception and Psychophysics, 17, 492–496.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Doty, R. L., & Cameron, E. L. (2009). Sex differences and reproductive hormone influences on human odor perception. Physiology & Behavior, 97(2), 213–228.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Franzoi, S. L., & Herzog, M. E. (1987). Judging physical attractiveness what body aspects do we use? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 13(1), 19–33.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Gower, D. B., Holland, K. T., Mallet, A. I., Rennie, P. J., & Watkins, W. J. (1994). Comparison of 16-androstene steroid concentrations in sterile apocrine sweat and axillary secretions: Interconversions of 16-androstenes by the axillary microflora—a mechanism for axillary odour production in man? Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 48(4), 409–418.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Graham, C. A., Janssen, E., & Sanders, S. A. (2000). Effects of fragrance on female sexual arousal and mood across the menstrual cycle. Psychophysiology, 37(1), 76–84.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Graham, C. A., Sanders, S. A., Milhausen, R. R., & McBride, K. R. (2004). Turning on and turning off: A focus group study of the factors that affect women’s sexual arousal. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33(6), 527–538.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Havlicek, J., & Lenochova, P. (2006). The effect of meat consumption on body odor attractiveness. Chemical Senses, 31, 747–752.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Havlicek, J., & Roberts, S. C. (2009). MHC-correlated mate choice in humans: A review. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34(4), 497–512.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Havlicek, J., Saxton, T. K., Roberts, S. C., Jozifkova, E., Lhota, S., Valentova, J., & Flegr, J. (2008). He sees, she smells? Male and female reports of sensory reliance in mate choice and non-mate choice contexts. Personality and Individual Differences, 45(6), 565–570.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Heckmann, M., Teichmann, B., Pause, B. M., & Plewig, G. (2003). Amelioration of body odor after intracutaneous axillary injection of botulinum toxin A. Archives of Dermatology, 139, 57–59.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Herz, R. S. (2004). A naturalistic analysis of autobiographical memories triggered by olfactory visual and auditory stimuli. Chemical Senses, 29(3), 217–224.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Herz, R. S., & Cahill, E. D. (1997). Differential use of sensory information in sexual behavior as a function of gender. Human Nature, 8(3), 275–286.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Herz, R. S., & Inzlicht, M. (2002). Sex differences in response to physical and social factors involved in human mate selection: The importance of smell for women. Evolution and Human Behavior, 23(5), 359–364.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Jacob, S., McClintock, M. K., Zelano, B., & Ober, C. (2002). Paternally inherited HLA alleles are associated with women’s choice of male odor. Nature Genetics, 30(2), 175–179.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Jones, B. C., DeBruine, L. M., Perrett, D. I., Little, A. C., Feinberg, D. R., & Smith, M. J. L. (2008). Effects of menstrual cycle phase on face preferences. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37(1), 78–84.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Keller, A., & Vosshall, L. B. (2016). Olfactory perception of chemically diverse molecules. BMC Neuroscience, 17, 55. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12868-016-0287-2.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  26. Knaapila, A., Tuorila, H., Vuoksimaa, E., Keskitalo-Vuokko, K., Rose, R. J., Kaprio, J., & Silventoinen, K. (2012). Pleasantness of the odor of androstenone as a function of sexual intercourse experience in women and men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41(6), 1403–1408.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. Kromer, J., Hummel, T., Pietrowski, D., Giani, A. S., Sauter, J., Ehninger, G., … Croy, I. (2016). Influence of HLA on human partnership and sexual satisfaction. Scientific Reports, 6, 32550. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep32550.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  28. Lenochová, P., Roberts, S. C., & Havlicek, J. (2009). Methods of human body odor sampling: The effect of freezing. Chemical Senses, 34(2), 127–138.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. Lenochová, P., Vohnoutova, P., Roberts, S. C., Oberzaucher, E., Grammer, K., & Havlíček, J. (2012). Psychology of fragrance use: Perception of individual odor and perfume blends reveals a mechanism for idiosyncratic effects on fragrance choice. PLoS ONE, 7(3), e33810. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0033810.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  30. Levin, R. (2004). Smells and tastes—their putative influence on sexual activity in humans. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 19(4), 451–462.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Lübke, K. T., & Pause, B. M. (2015). Always follow your nose: The functional significance of social chemosignals in human reproduction and survival. Hormones and Behavior, 68, 134–144.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Martins, Y., Preti, G., Crabtree, C. R., Runyan, T., Vainius, A. A., & Wysocki, C. J. (2005). Preference for human body odors is influenced by gender and sexual orientation. Psychological Science, 16(9), 694–701.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. O’Brien, R. M. (2007). A caution regarding rules of thumb for variance inflation factors. Quality & Quantity, 41, 673–690.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Penn, D., & Potts, W. (1998). How do major histocompatibility complex genes influence odor and mating preferences. Advances in Immunology, 69, 411–436.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. Roberts, S. C., Gosling, L. M., Carter, V., & Petrie, M. (2008). MHC-correlated odour preferences in humans and the use of oral contraceptives. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 275(1652), 2715–2722.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Savic, I., Berglund, H., & Lindström, P. (2005). Brain response to putative pheromones in homosexual men. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 102(20), 7356–7361.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  37. Semin, G. R., & De Groot, J. H. (2013). The chemical bases of human sociality. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17(9), 427–429.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. Sodavari, M., Shahidi, M. A., Almadani, S. A. H., Moazedian, A., & Imani, M. S. (2014). The role of pleasant and unpleasant odors in the individual and social attractiveness. Journal of Educational and Management Studies, 4(2), 311–315.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Sorokowska, A., Butovskaya, M., & Veselovskaya, E. (2015). Partner’s body odor versus relatives’ body odor: A comparison of female associations. Polish Psychological Bulletin, 46(2), 209–213.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Stevenson, R. J. (2010). An initial evaluation of the functions of human olfaction. Chemical Senses, 35(1), 3–20.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. Suschinsky, K. D., & Lalumiere, M. L. (2012). Is sexual concordance related to awareness of physiological states? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41(1), 199–208.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. Wedekind, C., & Füri, S. (1997). Body odour preferences in men and women: Do they aim for specific MHC combinations or simply heterozygosity? Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 264(1387), 1471–1479.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Wedekind, C., Seebeck, T., Bettens, F., & Paepke, A. J. (1995). MHC-dependent mate preferences in humans. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 260(1359), 245–249.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Wyatt, T. D. (2003). Pheromones and animal behaviour: Communication by smell and taste. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by national funds through Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT). P. Alves-Oliveira acknowledges a FCT Grant Ref. SFRH/BD/110223/2015. This study was also supported by the Swedish Research Council (Grant 421-2012-1125) and The Swedish Foundation of Social Science and Humanities (Grant P12-1017) to M. J. Olsson. The authors show their gratitude to Elisa Pinto, Liliana Perdigão and Marta Rocha for their support during the body odor collection, to Dr. Pedro Bem-Haja for the data analysis support, and to all the participants for their involvement in the study.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joana Carvalho.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Additional information

A correction to this article is available online at https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-018-1170-2.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Alves-Oliveira, P., Carvalho, J., Ferreira, J. et al. Influence of Body Odors and Gender on Perceived Genital Arousal. Arch Sex Behav 47, 661–668 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-017-1091-5

Download citation

Keywords

  • Olfaction
  • Human body odors
  • Gender
  • Perceived genital arousal
  • Mating behavior